April 19, 2002 - Friday
For the third time in a couple of months, Harry bit one of the other kids at daycare today. Each time he has been disciplined by the daycare provider with a time-out and been coached to apologize to his victim. His mother and I have also tried to reinforce those efforts by talking to him at night, but we have clearly not done a sufficient job. Biting, says the daycare provider, is not an uncommon problem with toddlers, but usually associated with lack of communication skills or mischievousness tendencies, neither of which Harry usually exhibits. Harry, it seems, may be doing it just to illicit a response. Today, he was reputedly just sitting on the sofa next to the daycare provider's 9-year old daughter and, without provocation, leaned over and bit her.
As I put Harry in his car seat to leave the daycare, I spoke with him very directly about the biting. At first, he proudly, and somewhat disturbingly, said he had "said sorry." He's been praised for those good manners in the past and I wondered then if he was just looking for similar praise. Could it be that simple? If so, he did not get it from me. After acknowledging that "sorry" was a good response, I continued to show disappointment. His "I did good" smile quickly turned to squirms in the seat and random calls for unrelated desires in a clear effort to redirect the conversation. I dismissed each firmly.
As we got home and pulled into the driveway, Harry started his normal calls to play outside. I hadn't said too much to Harry in the car on the way home and responded to Harry with a rather abrupt, "no, not today." I didn't mean it to sound terribly mad, but I was still troubled by the biting and trying to figure out what his mother and I should do and I suspect Harry took it negatively, and perhaps that's just as well. For the next 20 minutes or so he was treading lightly. As it turned out, Jeremy had fallen asleep in the car and to let him nap solidly, Harry and I stayed in the garage assembling a new fertilizer spreader I had just picked up at the hardware store. Harry was initially excited about the project, but soon tired of it and headed for the door I had left open on the other side of the garage behind our car. But, however unconsciously, I started something, a manner of dealing with the issue, with my initial refusal to let him play outside and I felt I had to stick with it. And interestingly, as I did call Harry back he came quickly and almost without objection every time. Was he getting the message?
I let my tacit anger and shortness with him continue until his mother arrived home from work. She went inside with Jeremy while Harry and I cleaned up outside. Then, Harry complained mildly when I said it was time to go in, but acquiesced when I took his hand and marched him toward the door saying he needed to tell mommy about the biting. I remember from childhood that those sorts of confessions were not at all fun and I think Harry was suitably contrite in telling his mother (with direct prompting) that he had bitten Kaila. He again boasted that he had "said sorry," but with a good deal less confidence than before.
For the rest of the evening I tried to be upbeat and positive with Harry, but I'm not sure I was. And, maybe that's still for the best. I think it's very important for him to know that we care and love him no matter what. But perhaps, it's just as important for him to see that his actions have consequences. I talked to him once more about biting at bedtime, but then quickly change the subject and sang happier songs.
I'm not really sure how any of that went, whether anything I did was enough or too much, or what Harry took from it. But, that's my parenting for today.